A Story of Scents
Little did Maître de Claude know what the future held for him when he set his path on the Via Francigena that was initially to take him from his birthplace in France to the Holy See in Rome.
Being an ambitious architect and the youngest inheritor of his family’s arch design craftsmanship, Maître de Claude set off on an inspirational journey through the reviving splendor of the mesmerizing Gothic abbeys that were connected by the old route of Sigeric.
This Pilgrimage of Arts, from the Saint-Voût of Aosta to the giant arches of the Papal Basilica, passing by the Devil’s bridge of Borgo, the Duomo di Siena and the medieval towns of Lazio, turned out to be de Claude’s first venture in the realm of aromatics…
While the main design of his journey was meant to fall within the scope of his visual sense and analytical imagination, Maître de Claude’s spirit was however infiltrated and overwhelmed with something wistfully olfactory, with every monastic sojourn he made.
The particular presence imparted by the holy wafts of the abbatial incense, together with the untamed scents emanating from the natural fauna and flora that surrounded the estates, rekindled in his heart, a long-forgotten passion that was yet to be uncovered and unleashed from within.
It was the eternal city of Rome that unexpectedly revealed the inflection point of de Claude’s mission.
It wasn’t the charming aura of the Vatican gardens, heightened with whiffs of balsamic honeysuckle and basil that awakened the memory of his old obsession with a distinct incense that which de Claude had experienced at an early age, but the light silage of the incense permeating the colossal halls of the church.
Those memories go back to when his father would take him to the churches of Avignon, in quest for architectural inspiration, mainly to the impressive Palais des Papes, which used to be the papal siege in the middle ages, where the same unique incense was used.
Being the dedicated craftsman he is, Maître de Claude wasn’t about to halt his architectural quest for a French revival of the gothic arch craftsmanship at the first childhood memory that emerged in his mind, even though the siren call of an olfactory adventure was already attracting his newly budding passion.
Nevertheless, his nascent proclivity prompted him to start a travel journal in which he could lay forth the proliferating surges of his newfound allurement.
"... et pour les passionnés de fragrance, je laisse mon carnet de voyage, un mémoire pour ma France...”* ~ MdC, 1797
["... and for the scent lovers I leave my travel journal, a memoir for my France...”]
Inspiration for Mémoire, Carnet de Voyage
Having extended his Pilgrimage of Arts to the Cathedrals of Monreale and Palermo in Sicily, based on the recommendations of fellow Roman architects, de Claude found himself perambulating through La Conca d'Oro.
A cloud of scent suddenly whipped up from every fringe of the valley, finding its way into the nasal buds of de Claude and overtaking his senses; an enchanting mix of orange, olive and almond fragrances.
Once again, he found his sense of smell tantalizing him into considering the swashbuckling aromatic odyssey he was dreading.
And, once again, Maître de Claude braced himself to withstand the swooping pounce of that venture into the unknown and that seemed more imminent with every whiff he drew.
Yet, the architect’s encounter, in the old port of Palermo, with the gardenia’s sweet structured scent emanating from the anchored merchant Pacific Ocean liner, specialized in the trade of perfumery ingredients, was the catalyst of an overpowering and life-changing experience that would take Maître de Claude on a captivating adventure to the opposite side of the globe and back.
What could have otherwise taken de Claude years of consideration, was now only reduced to few travel stories shared by the liner crew and that sufficed for him to set his mind on joining the traders on their expedition. Their exotic adventures, steeped in an aroma of Tiaré, reminded him of that Tahitian governess back at the de Claude mansion, who used to tell him how she missed walking barefoot on the sandy shores of her native Polynesian island.
"... et la sensualité de la tiaré m’inspirait une balade sur les plages dorées de la Tahiti bien-aimée...” ~ MdC, 1798
["... and the sensuality of the tiaré made me yearn for a stroll on the golden beaches of the beloved Tahiti...”]
* Inspiration for Balade, Tiaré de Tahiti
It was on his way to the ancient land of Egypt, rightfully named by Herodotus as "Gift of the Nile”, that Maître de Claude realized it was time for him to permanently abandon the whole idea of being the next great architect in the family and embrace the new destiny that awaited him; he was to become The Architect of Scents.
Onboard a felucca sailing through the long steady path of life, the ever-changing desert waves gave our architect a sense of faith that only the sacred Nile, reaching the ancient city of Luxor and the majestic temples of Karnak, could inspire.
This feeling that everything was possible with the right combination of elements, which arose from de Claude imagining the mixture of the Nile Jasmine with other natural ingredients, was a perception that would serve his insightful perfumer’s mind for years to come.
"... et, à Karnak, je m’embarquais dans une aventure juvénile à la douce senteur de jasmin du Nil” ~ MdC 1799
["... and, at Karnak, I embarked on a juvenile adventure basking in the sweet scent of the Nile jasmine…”]
* Inspiration for Aventure, Jasmin de Karnak”
On their way to the Great Pyramid of Giza, while Maître de Claude and the merchants started amusingly calling themselves "La Confrèrie des Effluves” (Fellowship of the Scented Emanations) - a term coined by de Claude himself to depict the trail of aromatic smell the "Fellowship” was leaving behind wherever they went – the sailors heard about the Louisiana Territory being regained by France and saw in it a new trade opportunity, hence they shifted their destination to the Americas, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
A season later, the Confrèrie disembarked from the ocean liner in Tétouan and headed to Azrou in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where the Fellowship planned to get some Cedarwood in order to exchange it with the Native Americans and gain access to the natural scented ingredients of their land.
Meanwhile, their ship had to face the murky weather and the relentless wind of the shores of Gibraltar to meet them at the port of Casablanca, before they set sail again towards the new continent.
Amplified by their tough wintry journey along the snowy Atlas mountain path leading to the town of Azrou, the news of the Cedar forest having been transformed into an untouchable reserve would have caused Maître de Claude and his companion a disarraying disappointment, if it wasn’t for that stranger who lead them on a mysterious northern road after explaining that, although Cedarwood was protected from trading, Cedarwood oil was still secretively in production in the caves of Ifrane.
Apart from being rewarding to the confrèrie, this discovery was a life-changing event, for it was in these cave dwellings that were hollowed out of the limestone valley wall, that Maître de Claude learned the first secrets of perfumery, a process he was to innovatively develop throughout the years to come.
"... et, dans ma traversée enjouée des plaines d’Ifrane, le cèdre interpellait mon œil et mon nez...” ~ MdC 1801 ~ MdC 1801
["... and in my playful crossing of the plains of Ifrane, the cedar tree was calling to both my eye and nose…”]
* Inspiration for "Traversée, Cèdre d’Ifrane”
Supplied with essential Cedarwood oil vials and invaluable perfumery skills, the Fellowship embarked in Casablanca for their transatlantic voyage towards the new world.
The "Confrèrie des Effluves” stopped at Saint-Domingue, a maritime station on their way to Louisiana, where Maître de Claude made use for the first time of the skills he learned in Ifrane, after the discovery of a vine that grows on trees, with zig-zag stems, narrow elliptic leaves, yellowish-green flowers and bunches of bean-like pods that the natives called Vanilla.
Although the scent emanating from the oil extracted from the little brown vanilla pods took them on an indescribable escapade of senses, the Fellowship could not ignore for long the political turmoil that was budding on the island.
"...et ce doux parfum de vanille offrait une escapade furtive à mes papilles olfactives...” ~ MdC 1802 ~ MdC 1802
["...and the sweet vanilla scent offered a swift escape to my olfactory buds …”]
* Inspiration for "Escapade, Vanille des Iles”
Hence, soon after they settled there, the Natives’ revolution to take control of the Antillean paradise forced the Fellowship to move to Cuba. It was the new de facto "Pearl of the Antilles”, an island known for its welcoming residents and its famous tobacco leaves, called Digo by the indigenes of the land.
Using the Cedarwood Oil to trade for local ingredients and his stay in Havana, Maître de Claude started enjoying the suave feel of the old city through the many convivial encounters with the expressively dynamic population of the island. The charm of the Latin women though was no match for the beauty of his beloved who was awaiting his return in her Parisian abode.
The Cuban escape was however soon caught up with a series of unfortunate events, including the sale of Louisiana to the newly established United States of America and the infestation of the Caribbean water with outlawed pirates, which lead the Fellowship to redirect their trip once again and venture through the Pacific Ocean and back to the Polynesian Islands for another flowery trade mission.
"… et le digo au parfum enchanté couvrait mon évasion océane au cœur exotique de la Havane…” ~ MdC 1803 ~ MdC 1803
["… and the enchanted fragrance of the tobacco leaves imbued my oceanic evasion to the exotic heart of Havana…”]
* Inspiration for "Evasion, Digo de Havane”
On the morning the "Confrérie des Effluves” was to set for their return sail to Tahiti, Maître de Claude shared with his mates his will to wait in Havana, where would be working on combining his newly discovered olfactive talents with the skills he learned in Ifrane to help out fund their trip back to France.
Although the Fellowship found the decision of the perfumer abrupt, they respected his will and bid him farewell, leaving a dreamy perfumer behind and unknowing of what really made him change his mind.
Maître de Claude change of heart happened as he was walking in the old Havana port the previous night, when the moon’s enchanting silver light sweetly reflected on the ocean bed had reminded him of the premature greying highlights in the hair of the one nearest to his heart, his dear betrothed, whom he was becoming impatient to go back to.
"… et du port de la Havane, la lune, de son reflet argenté, m’appelait à regagner les flots, vers la terre des Français…”~ MdC 1803
["… and from the port of Havana, the moon’s silver light was calling me to ride the waves again back toward the lands of the Frenchmen…”]
* Inspiration for "Argentium, Halo de Lune”
Half a decade had passed when the Fellowship came back from Polynesia with a new aromatic Tiaré shipment, only to hear about "El PerfuMaestro”, a craftsman who would be interested in their shipment.
Upon meeting the famous "El PerfuMaestro,” the fellows were pleased to recognize their cherished friend, Maître de Claude, now a successful perfumer, well-known all over the island as "The Master Perfumer.”
De Claude had created notable fragrances inspired by the different destinations of his trips and even introduced Tobacco essence in his latest, which turned out to be an instant olfactive success.
However, with the unstable political scenery surging beyond the borders of Tahiti and yet another revolutionary movement taking place in Havana, the "Confrérie des Éffluves” found itself rushing again to ride the ocean wave, but this time towards their homeland, the France they loved and missed.
On the ship heading North towards his beloved, Maître de Claude often found himself having sleepless nights, lost in meditation to the beauty of the Milky Way, this seemingly limitless valley of stars guiding his path to where home was for his loving heart.
"… la boussole pointée vers le Nord, mon dos à la Voie Lactée et l’étrave en direction de ma douce bien aimée…” ~ MdC 1808
["… the compass pointing to the North, my back to the Milky Way and the bow of my ship in direction of my sweet beloved…”]
* Inspiration for "Boréale, Vallée d’Étoiles”
More than a decade after his veer, Maître de Claude was back with an invincibly loving vigor to the Old Continent, "fluctuat nec mergitur” - or tossed by the waves but never sunk -, just like the motto of the City of Paris, where he so dreamt to find his sweet fiancée awaiting his return, much to his dismay.
His treasured spouse-to-be, not having received any of his correspondence and thinking he had passed away, had founded a family of her own with a rival of his who had provided her with the social status that de Claude was blamed for being late to offer.
Heartbroken and alienated, feeling like a stranger among his own, the perfumer moved to the property of the de Claude family in the Gascony Landes, like a nomad weighted with a heart of sand.
"… Heartbroken and alienated, feeling like a stranger among his own, the perfumer moved to the property of the de Claude family in the Gascony Landes, like a nomad weighted with a heart of sand.~ MdC 1809
["… and on my own lands, I wandered like a nomad with a crumbled heart, thinking of my sweetheart who had deserted me to be with my rival…”]
* Inspiration for "Nomade, Coeur de Sable”
Two years passed with Maître de Claude secluding himself in the "airial” of the Landes de Gascogne and shunning himself from the art of perfumery he so much cherished; yet one morning came and that was like no other.
On that day, at sunrise, de Claude heard gentle yet repetitive knocks on the door that would have been otherwise forgotten if it wasn’t for the rosebud he saw under the porch on the doorsteps of his dwelling.
And, day after day, this rosaceous gesture that first left him puzzled, started drawing a circadian smile on his crestfallen figure, blossoming in his mind the gratifying idea that someone was having a recurrent thought for him.
"… d'un rythme journalier, sur mon seuil était déposé un cœur de rosier qui me donnait espoir qu’un être étranger avait toujours pour moi une pensée…” ~ MdC 1811
["…daily, on my doorsteps, a rosebud was placed giving me hope that a stranger, out there, still had a thought for me…”]
* Inspiration for "Pétula, Écrin de Rose”
Feeling an irresistible urge to discover the identity of his sympathetic observer, Maître de Claude planned for an aurora hideout and sat up serenely, awaiting the first lights of the day.
A young girl, with untamed fiery red curls, treaded carefully from the shallow darkness of the pine tree forest towards the perfumer’s den and as she placed the burgeoning rose on its daily modest pedestal, she uttered "Komi Jati”, which de Claude remembered to signify "Rebirth” from his brief encounters with the Romani pilgrims he had met on the Via Francigena.
Later in the day, following his unsuccessful furtive attempt to reach the light-paced girl who barely bore the third of his years and his thorough investigation of her identity in the vicinity of his property, the perfumer reached a delectable denouement that determined ‘Calda’ as the calling name of this young adventurous Gypsy.
"… Calda se nommait, la petite gitane aux cheveux roux ébouriffés, qui, de son geste habitué, avait redonné à ma vie son sens oublié…” ~ MdC 1811
["… Calda was the name of that little gypsy girl with tousled red hair, who, by her repeated gesture, had given back to my life its forgotten meaning…”]
* Inspiration for "Calda, Eclat de Vie”
Despite the attempts of many Gasconians trying to dissuade him from approaching the Gypsy camp, Maître de Claude ventured assertively towards the habitat of his whispering muse.
As he approached the campfire, the aromatic whiffs of the Romani spices caught him off guard, flaming up and reviving the inner passion of El PerfuMaestro and acting as a catalyst for the unexpected rebirth of this perfumer.
As an epiphany enlightened de Claude’s senses, his life purpose suddenly became clear. From then on, it was the Quest for True Love that would guide his future endeavors.
"… et la passion du parfum qui me revenait m’affirmait alors que, désormais, cet univers sera comme une ancre jetée au cœur de mes pensées...”~ MdC 1812
["… and the passion for perfume that was coming back to me, was asserting that, from now on, this universe will be like an anchor in my thoughts…”]
* Inspiration for "Avenir, Ancre d’Amour”
In light of his recent breakthrough, Maître de Claude decided to make use of his talent in perfumery to build a migrating school, the "École Gitane” – Gypsy School -, the first of its kind dedicated to kids having been deported from their land and who found themselves without a fixed domicile and unable to have a proper education...
… which calls for yet another L’Arc Parfums story!